Well you’ve certainly heard of it, you’ve probably gone to it, you may have watched it on TV or perhaps you’ve ridden there but which ever one it is, one thing is for sure, you know of Spruce Meadows.
Like Aachen is for continental Europe and the United Kingdom, Spruce Meadows stands as the most monumental and largest horse show facility in North America.
It’s history is rich and many European as well as North American riders have been making the long trip to Calgary, Alberta since 1976.
Spruce Meadows is a truly magical place. Every time I’ve competed there or just gone to watch, each visit is better then the last. It is a place where great memories are made and great riders are etched into history as they compete for titles like so many horses and riders before them.
This year was no exception. There was a full roster of top riders in attendance; Olympic gold medalist Scott Brash, Olympic silver medalist Jur Vrieling, Olympians such as Eric Lamaze, Michael Whitaker, Werner Muff, Ludo Philippaerts, Ian Millar and Christian Ahlmann just to name of a few.
American history maker Reed Kessler was aboard the Nations Cup team with a full fleet of female riders including Brianne Goutal, Leslie Howard and Ashlee Bond.
The Germans were in full force as usual with Daniel Deusser, Hans Drieter-Dreher, Philipp Weishaput and previously mentioned Christian Ahlmann winning the prestigious $350,000 BMO Nations Cup. Ireland really stood out of the crowd. They earned second in the Nations Cup event with some young and talented riders aboard; Shane Breen, Shane Sweetman, Andrew Bourns and the always-lovely Jennifer Crooks.
The stables were full with top-class international riders, the sponsors had dished out generously for top-of-the-line prize money offerings and the stands were packed with record-breaking numbers of spectators. It was set to be an outstanding week.
And a week to remember, it certainly was. With some upsets, some surprises and some extraordinary moments.
There was a all-female Nations Cup team for the United States led by the very-experienced Leslie Howard, who at the tender age of 57, posted an incredible second round in the $350,000 BMO Nations Cup. She led a relatively young team with 18 year old Reed Kessler, 23 year old Brianne Goutal and 27 year old Ashlee Bond. Young they may be, but 18 year old US Olympian Reed Kessler posted a very neat and tidy clear round, as her team mate Leslie, in the second round. The course was particularly difficult with only four clear rounds posted in the first round.
But after the Super league season, it was no surprise that Germany were the victors of the famous Spruce Meadows Nations Cup. With the only double-clear score posted by Germany’s 31 year old Daniel Deusser and his new mount Cornet d’Amour, owned by Stephex Stables, it was very clearly a day for the Germans. Team Ireland, who have come up slowly and steadily through the Superleague this year, with wins at Hickstead and in Dublin, came second. The team was comprised of US-based Jennifer Crooks, Shane Breen, Shane Sweetman and 29 year old Andrew Bourns.
The Flying Dutchmen came in third with Silver-medalist Jur Vrieling, 2010 CN International winner Jeroen Dubbeldam, Harrie Smolders and Leon Thijssen. The Dutch took home the silver medal at this year’s Olympic Games in London and they clearly were ready to take on Leopoldo’s super-tough course. The legendary orange jackets were on full display on Saturday and good thing too because an outstanding clear round was posted for the Dutch in second phase by the Olympic combination Jur Vrieling and his 12 year old Dutch stallion Bubalu.
With a record breaking attendance on Saturday, the BMO Nations Cup proved to be very challenging with a few too many bumps and bruises. Leopoldo Palacios (VEN) set very challenging courses two days in a row, to give to the riders and very good run for their money; literally!!
It was a very difficult track on Saturday with some unfortunate outcomes for Canada’s Tiffany Foster, America’s Brianne Goutal, Britain’s Michael Whitaker and France’s Roger Yves-Bost. It was surprising to see so many falls and I must say, I cannot remember a Master’s where so many horse/rider combinations had such extreme difficulty with the track or the jumps themselves.
It was clear with the talk by the in gate and in the warm up ring that unlike the material we see in Europe and other parts of North America, the material at Spruce Meadows still remains long and heavy. The sport of International show jumping has made an evolution towards lighter jumping material. The poles comes off the standards easier and proves to be safer for everyone. As I watched horses such as Richard Spooner’s Apache, Tiffany Foster’s Victor and Jur Vrielings Bubalu come close to hurting themselves on the hard, heavy jumping material, I started to wonder if perhaps Spruce Meadows’ International ring material is in need of a re-vamp.
It was very clear by the talk amongst the riders that the feelings were unanimous; Spruce Meadows jumping material needs to be more modern.
I for one, think it will be only a matter of time before the team at Spruce Meadows recognize that such a unique international venue such as themselves require the best. Spruce Meadows has always demanded the best from both themselves and their competitors. They host world-class tournaments through out the summer and into the autumn that draws many of the world’s best riders. It was clear at this Masters, perhaps more then any other in the past, that they need to step up and follow the international venues in Europe. They need to get lighter jumping material.
Sunday proved to be another magnificent Canadian autumn day. The temperature was perfect and the sun was shining and the stage was set for one of the World’s most sought after Grand Prix titles; the $1 Million CN International Grand Prix.
It is a Million dollar class so you could be assured, Leopoldo was going to set a difficult and technical track. He clearly stayed up late the night before with his design because come Sunday morning, we were all walking the course going “Wow, this is something.”
A few riders even predicted that there would be no clear rounds for the track was just so big and just so technical but alas, it was a day for the young and up-and-comers to say to the world, “Here I am.”
There were only four jump-fault free rounds for the Million dollar class. Olivier Philippaerts jumped a clean first round with one time fault, the two other gentlemen to follow with the same score was Roger Yves-Bost (FRA) and Jeroen Dubbeldam (NED). The only clear round of the entire first round was 18 year old Reed Kessler. America’s sweetheart once again impressed the crowds with her incredible composure. Coming back into the second round it was Leslie Howard and Beezie Madden to jump clear along with Olivier’s father, Belgian Olympian Ludo Philippaerts. But alas, with another 1 fault round from Olivier, it was the 19 year old Belgian who would seize the special day.
Now, talk about emotional. It was an incredible win for the young 19 year old, who is based in Belgium with his twin brother, father and the rest of the Philippaerts clan. It was an incredible win by a very young and humble talent.
As I watched Olivier hoist the CN International Trophy I realized that it is these moments that make Spruce Meadows so special. Surrounded by thousands of local Calgary fans, there is something so grand about a win at Spruce Meadows.
I can’t quite put my finger on it. But as the golden prairie sun set on the crisp blue Rocky mountains, I realized that everything that happens at Spruce Meadows, every win and every moment, has a way of finding itself into the history books and into the hearts of so many who watch.
Whether it is the frontier aspect to the Spruce Meadows story or the truly international feel to the event that brings such uniqueness to the Spruce Meadows Masters. Whatever it is, I left the grounds that evening thinking to myself, how truly unique Spruce Meadows is.
There is no where else like it.
The colors, the flags, the parades, the constant entertainment and the overall friendly-feel. Ron and Margaret Southern started something over 35 years ago and to do this day, despite it’s size and popularity, it still has maintained an overall friendly and family-oriented feel with a strong connection to its Canadian roots and that, I think, is what makes Spruce Meadows timeless.